DWU Class of 2020 graduation held at Corn Palace

After nearly six months of delay, ceremony bids latest graduates farewell

About 100 members of the Dakota Wesleyan University Class of 2020 gathered at the Corn Palace Sunday afternoon to take part in their commencement ceremony. The event was originally scheduled for May, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced school officials to postpone that plan for six months, finally holding it on the same weekend as homecoming. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

The arrival of COVID-19 early this year threw a wrench in just about every aspect of life at home, work and school.

That included the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony for students at Dakota Wesleyan University. The event, originally to be held in May as it is traditionally scheduled, was finally held at the Corn Palace Sunday afternoon, honoring approximately 230 graduating students, over 100 of whom attended the festivities despite having moved on from the school over half a year ago.

Graduating Dakota Wesleyan University senior Zachariah John Gors is recognized Sunday at the Corn Palace during commencement. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

“This is a particularly special day for this class whose academic year and college experience were significantly disrupted by the challenges of COVID-19. We are grateful to the many friends and family members gathered with us today to celebrate this important accomplishment,” said Amy Novak, president of DWU, in her opening remarks.


The ceremony took place at the Corn Palace, with face mask and social distancing rules in place. Families of graduates in the stands were encouraged to leave as much space as possible between them, and the chairs on the basketball floor for graduates and other schools officials were spaced at six feet apart.

Novak noted that unusual circumstances aside, the event should definitely be looked at as a beginning rather than an ending, even though it is understandable to think of graduation as a time when a journey is over.

Masks and social distancing were required for most of the Dakota Wesleyan University Class of 2020 graduation ceremony Sunday at the Corn Palace. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Not necessarily so, Novak said.

“Today constitutes a formal beginning that when you take what you have learned, the skills you have honed and the myriad ways that you have grown and matured and you head out on this road, prepared to make an impact,” Novak said. “Today becomes your first step down the new road that will be challenging, but also rich in opportunity and deep in meaning and purpose.”

She said the school Class of 2020 is already several months into the next phase of their lives, with some having secured employment with local, regional and international firms, including nursing students now working at Avera and Sanford, nonprofit mission work and teaching in elementary and secondary schools in Mitchell and across the state and region.


The work they put in at DWU, along with the knowledge they acquired and the relationships they forged, will serve them well as they prepare to head out into the world and make a difference.

Members of the Dakota Wesleyan University Class of 2020 gathered Sunday at the Corn Palace to take part in their graduation ceremony, which was originally scheduled for May but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

“It is our sincere hope that we have prepared you well for the many journeys that lie ahead,” Noval said.

The Rev. Eric Van Meter, campus pastor for DWU, told the graduates about his days leading long-distance bicycle trips during his time as an employee at Arkansas State University. One particularly challenging ride took place between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Jonesboro, Arkansas, home of ASU. They were about to cross into the Texas panhandle when the group encountered goat’s head thorns, a weed notorious for wreaking havoc on bicycle tires.

“We had something like seven flat tires within an hour, and just when we thought we were going to get back on the road and get beyond this stretch, I look up and, sure enough, one of our seniors caught one of those thorns,” Van Meter said. “I ride up to him and he gets off the bike and squeezes his flat tire.”

Amy Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University, addresses the audience during the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony Sunday at the Corn Palace. The event was originally scheduled for May, but the arrival of COVID-19 forced the school to postpone those plans. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)


In frustration, the senior picked up his bicycle and threw it into the ditch, yelling “You have got to be kidding me!”

Van Meter said that feeling may be familiar to the Class of 2020.

“That, my friends, is the liturgical prayer for the year 2020,” Van Meter said.

He noted there is a lesson to be found in that example. He said the last six months have shown that there will be serious challenges in life, and that the way to approach those challenges is with honesty and hope.

“The world is not as we wish it would be. How else would you explain such a graduation as this, held on Sept. 27? I would love to stand before you with a rah-rah speech about how your future is so bright and rosy and full of rainbows, and I hope it is, but that’s not the whole story. You know that,” Van Meter said. “You enter a world full of uncertainty. Your generation has a lot of big problems to address, so you might as well stare them down.”

Graduates with the Dakota Wesleyan University Class of 2020 stand prior to the start of the ceremony Sunday at the Corn Palace. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Facing the truth of a bad situation and not backing down from it is important, and a step everyone should remember as they enter the next phase of their lives.


“I do believe today we are beginning a journey with God that ultimately leads to God. That we will see goodness and peace in this world as we travel. And I hope by God’s grace that we’ll be blown away by the good things we find,” Van Meter said.

Jory Hansen, director of development at DWU, welcomed the new graduates to the DWU alumni family. With graduation being held on the same weekend as homecoming, it seemed important to remind them that they are now part of something larger than themselves, he said.

“At the beginning of this journey, it started with a decision that included a number of factors: major, athletic or fine arts interest, the close-knit feel on campus and the potential to be involved in different activities,” Hansen said. “Regardless of why you chose to attend the institution, we all now have something in common - the DWU experience.”

The graduates in the Class of 2020 are now part of the larger DWU family, and like those who have walked across the stage before them and received their degrees, they will undoubtedly impact the world for the better, he said.

“We are all now part of a special group of more than 8,000 people across the country and across the world,” Hansen said. “Becoming an alum is not the end of the journey, it’s simply a matter of where life takes you. A career in business, an educator, a health care professional or a church or community leader — you will be a Dakota Wesleyan alumni for life.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
What To Read Next
Get Local